Many queer men use gay dating apps such as Grindr, Scruff and Hornet , but their impacts on youth are not well understood. To further understand these impacts, we interviewed health professionals who work with young gay, bisexual, trans and queer men (YGBQTM).
Summary of research
We interviewed 28 health professionals working with YGBTQM in British Columbia. Our aim was to understand how gay dating apps impact the health and well-being of YGBTQM. Analysis of the data reveals three categories of impacts that had both positive and negative dimensions.
Pleasurable sexuality versus transactional sexuality
Health professionals felt that gay dating apps increase access to sex, which made YGBTQM sexuality either more transactional (meaning encounters were less emotionally engaging and less meaningful) or more pleasurable. Gay dating apps were also said to help provide a sense of freedom to YGBTQM exploring their sexuality while making it easier to find compatible sexual partners.
Sense of community and increased safety versus community alienation and increased violence
Health professionals discussed how gay dating apps can foster a sense of community by facilitating connections between YGBTQM beyond sex. Specifically, gay dating apps can help make visible queer communities and meet new friends. This opportunity to connect with queer people might be even more important for trans individuals or YGBTQM living in remote areas that have less access to queer social spaces. Yet, health professionals pointed out that gay dating apps also expose YGBTQM more frequently to rejection and stigmatization (transphobia, fatphobia, racism, HIV discrimination, etc.). Discriminatory attitudes and messages (such as “no fats, no femmes, no Asians”) were said to be frequent on gay dating apps. On the other hand, health professionals explained that it may be safer for YGBTQM to disclose information like their HIV+ status or trans identity prior to meeting which can increase their physical safety by avoiding a potentially violent reaction during the encounter.
STBBIs and drug-related risks versus opportunities for prevention
Health professionals felt that gay dating apps increase risk for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI) because they facilitate sexual activity, and complicate contact tracing. Similarly, health professionals criticized how gay dating apps can facilitate or glorify sexualized drug use which can be particularly worrying for YGBTQM with substance use issues or those who have never used substances before. Conversely, health professionals pointed out the potential of gay dating apps for education and prevention. For example, the exchange of information between users increased sexual health literacy among YGBTQM while also promoting sexual health services. Gay dating apps were also a way for health professionals to reach populations in remote areas.
Implication for practice
The study findings help understand the complexities of the impact gay dating apps have on YGBQTM. Like a double-edged sword, these impacts are not all positive, nor all negative. Rather, they co-exist in nuanced ways creating different experiences for YGBQTM depending on their identities and appearance. Understanding these complexities can help health professionals mitigate the negative impacts while maximizing the positive ones. Additionally, health professionals should be careful in assuming sex on gay dating apps is transactional or less authentic as it could be perceived as slut-shaming, and could negatively influence YGBTQM self-perception or how they interact with the health care system in the future.
For further information
Gaudette, M., Hesse, C. L., Kia, H., Chanady, T., Carson, A., Knight, R., & Ferlatte, O. (2022). “A Double-Edged Sword” : Health Professionals’ Perspectives on the Health and Social Impacts of Gay Dating Apps on Young Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Men. The Journal of Sex Research, 0(0), 1‑12. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2022.2153786
 Macapagal, K., Kraus, A., Moskowitz, D. A., & Birnholtz, J. (2020). Geosocial networking application use, characteristics of app-met sexual partners, and sexual behavior among sexual and gender minority adolescents assigned male at birth. The Journal of Sex Research, 57(8), 1078‑1087. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1698004
I would like to thank the study co-authors and collaborators, particularly Olivier Ferlatte and Rod Knight for supervising this work. I would also like to thank the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for funding this research. A special thank you to the health professionals who participated in this study.